What Exactly is a Scratch Golfer? Explain it like I’m Five

golfer putting on the green in the winter cold weather

Many players have the goal of becoming a scratch golfer, entering a select and exclusive club. If you’re new to golf, you may ask: What is a scratch golfer?

A scratch golfer has a handicap of zero or better. These players are generally expected to shoot even par on the golf courses they play.

You’ve likely seen some scratch golfers play at your local club. But these players are in the minority when we consider all golfers.

Less than two out of every 100 golfers achieve a scratch handicap in the US. Of the approximately 2.4 million golfers in the US who carry an official handicap index, fewer than 36,000 (or roughly 1.85%) are considered scratch or better.

Scratch golfers are even more exclusive in the women’s game. Only 0.5% of women golfers are scratch players.

That gives you an idea of how hard it is to become a scratch golfer. Joining that elite group is a testament to your skill, determination, work ethic, and commitment.

Scratch Golfer Explained

We can explain a scratch golfer in two ways. Let’s call the first a ‘casual’ explanation and the second an ‘official’ explanation.

Casual Explanation

Golfers might use the ‘casual’ explanation of a scratch golfer around the clubhouse when discussing good players. People talking about a scratch golfer are referring to someone with a handicap of zero.

Such players generally shoot around level par when they play golf. But they might score a few shots better or worse on average.

Scratch golfers are expected to take 72 shots to complete a par-72 golf course.

Scratch golfers are consistent players who don’t make many terrible mistakes. And any ones they make, they find a way to recover from without too much trouble.

To get an idea of the standard of scratch golfers, think of a lower-level Division One player. Also, D2-D3 collegiate golfers tend to play scratch golf.

Official Explanation

The USGA gives us an official explanation of what a scratch golfer is. A scratch golfer is

“a player who can play to a Course Handicap of zero on any and all rated golf courses.”

We should point out that the USGA definition says that a scratch golfer can play to a Course Handicap of zero. That means these players have the potential to shoot level par on any and all rated golf courses.

Scratch golfers won’t get that score on every golf course they play. They have good days and bad days like the rest of us.

For a year, scratch golfers actually have an average score of 75.3 shots.

The USGA further clarifies what a scratch golfer is by stating this:

“A male scratch golfer, for rating purposes, can hit tee shots an average of 250 yards and can reach a 470-yard hole in two shots at sea level. A female scratch golfer, for rating purposes, can hit tee shots an average of 210 yards and can reach a 400-yard hole in two shots at sea level.”

Data Behind a Scratch Golfer

Comparing some data will give you an idea of the difference between scratch golfers and those with higher handicaps. Also, it’ll help you identify areas of your game that need improvement to progress toward a scratch handicap.

We can look at data to compare how a scratch golfer performs against low single-digit handicappers (1-5) and high single-digit handicappers (6-10). The table below compares these players so that you can see how your stats stack up.

AveragesScratchHcp. 1-5Hcp. 6-10
Score75.379.884.8
Putts Per Round31.532.633.7
Greens in Regulation (GIR)57%48%37%
Greens Hit Per Round11108
Fairways in Regulation (FIR)62%55%51%
Chip/Pitch Up and Down % (from <50 yds)43%33%28%
Up and Down % – Greenside Bunkers42%26%20%

As you can see, scratch golfers have better statistics across the board. They hit more greens in regulation, making it easier to two-putt for par or hole the odd birdie putt.

The short game is another standout area for scratch players. Their up-and-down percentages are much higher than high single-digit handicappers.

It’s a good idea to record your stats if you don’t already do so. You can compare your stats to these ones and practice areas you need to improve on.

It’s not easy, but you can become a scratch golfer with practice and dedication. We’ll give you some tips on how to become a scratch golfer.

How to Become a Scratch Golfer

Becoming a scratch golfer doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not easy, but there are a few steps you can take to increase your chances.

bryson one length irons

Track Your Stats

Tracking your stats is an important first step to take on the road to becoming a scratch golfer. It allows you to identify areas of your game that need improvement.

You can practice with purpose when you identify your weakness. Improving these specific areas of your game helps you to improve your handicap.

Say you hit 45% of fairways in regulation which is well below the 62% average for scratch golfers. You know you must start hitting it straighter off the tee to increase this percentage.

That means you can go to the range and practice hitting your driver and 3-wood. You can focus on accuracy over distance.

But just remember you want your tee shots to average 250 yards.

Also, it’s essential to keep your practice focused. It’s no good just going to the range and hitting hundreds of balls without any purpose.

If you’re focusing on accuracy, pick a specific target and try to keep your shots within that area. Aim between two spots about a fairway width apart if you’re practicing accuracy with your driver.

Also, use alignment sticks to ensure everything is lined up correctly. You’d be amazed how many golfers think they’re aiming properly when they’re really completely offline.

golfing with 2 alignment sticks

Check your stats in all the areas outlined in the previous table. When you miss a fairway or green, identify where you missed it – left, right, short, or long.

That helps you familiarize yourself with your most common misses. You can then use that information to improve your game.

For instance, you might miss most greens on the left. So, it’s not a good idea for you to shoot directly for a pin tucked on the left side of the green. There’s a good chance you’ll miss it left and end up off the green.

Aiming for the center of the green is your best bet in that situation. Even if you miss your target left, you could end up close to the flag.

Sharpen Your Chipping

An excellent short game can get you out of trouble. It’s often the difference between a par and a bogey for many golfers.

Those who want to be scratch golfers should put an emphasis on chipping. You must be able to save par from around the greens when you miss them in regulation.

Getting up and down often means you aren’t throwing away shots unnecessarily. Remember, scratch golfers hit about 11 greens in regulation on average.

So, that’s seven times they might need to get up and down to save par unless they get a few birdies. It’s hard to do that if your chipping isn’t good enough.

Related: Chipping vs. Pitching In Golf: Everything You Need To Know

You want to get your chips to within 5-7 feet of the hole, on average.  Obviously, closer is better, but you definitely don’t want to exceed that average.

Getting to within that range is critical because elite players will hole about 50-55% of their 5-7 footers. But they’ll only hole about 40% of 10-foot putts, and the percentage decreases as the distance increases.

Upgrading your chipping game so that you can consistently get within 5-7 feet (and preferably closer) is the recipe for saving strokes.  If you want to be a scratch player, put in the time to make this a consistent strength of your game. 

Dial in Your Lag Putting

Scratch golfers are generally good at lag putting. They can get long putts close to the hole regularly.

Scratch players have an uncanny ability to lag their 30+ foot putts to within easy, stress-free, tap-in range. Other higher single-digit players don’t always show the same expertise, often leaving these putts 4-5 feet away and occasionally farther.

Being able to lag putt and two-putt from long distances saves you strokes. We all know how frustrating a three-putt is because we’re essentially throwing away a shot.

To be a scratch golfer, you must spend the time and practice to get better at lag putting.  Speed control on long putts is an underrated skill by most golfers, but not by the elite players.

Improve Your Course Management

You can save shots with good course management. Sometimes it can be the difference between a bogey and a triple bogey or worse.

Let’s say you hit your drive into the trees. There’s a small gap in the trees giving you a line to the green, and you know you can make it with a perfect shot.

But the chances of you pulling it off are slim. You hit the shot anyway, and the ball crashes off a branch and goes deeper into trouble.

A scratch golfer will rarely take on a shot like that. The chances of failure are too high.

They’ll take their medicine, hack out onto the fairway, and try to hit the next shot onto the green. They’ve still got a chance to make par, but a bogey is the most likely outcome, which they’ll take and move on. They can always pick up a birdie later to get that shot back.

The elite players have a sixth sense of knowing when a conservative approach is called for. Perhaps the pin is tucked on the far left part of the green just behind a deep bunker, with deep rough or a hazard to the left.

Or maybe that par 5 has out-of-bounds to the right, or the fairway narrows significantly in the landing area, bringing rough or trees into play. You must manage the course correctly if you want to become a scratch golfer.

Focus on Hitting Fairways and Greens

It might seem boring to drive onto the fairway, hit the green, and two-putt for par before rinsing and repeating. But that’s what the best players do.

Of course, they’ll get some birdies and an occasional eagle. But they’re happy to hit fairways and greens and walk away with par most of the time.

You must get into that mindset to become a scratch golfer. It’s fun playing different types of shots, but it often gets us into trouble and can lead to double bogeys or worse.

Become almost robotic when it comes to hitting fairways and greens. That’ll put you on track to scratch golf.

Conclusion

Becoming a scratch golfer is the pinnacle for amateur golfers. It’s not easy to do, but scratch golf is always a fantastic goal to aim for.

Now you can answer, what is a scratch golfer? And you know what it takes to get there.

Collect your stats so you can compare them with those of scratch golfers. You need to know where you stand before you can reach your goal.

The tips in this article will help you on your journey. Enjoy the process of becoming a scratch golfer; it’s an incredible achievement.

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Shane Curry

Shane Curry is a professional writer and an avid golfer who’s been involved in the sport for over three decades. He is a student of the game and keeps up to date with all the latest developments.